I tend to keep my mouth shut on certain people in the liberty movement. I don’t like to attack people who do good work sometimes, and I don’t like to bring attention to those whom I think are doing terrible work. But when Paulie Doyle wrote an exposé on Stefan Molyneux this week on Buzzfeed, I realized more needed to be said.

There are some people in the liberty movement, like Molyneux, who do both good and terrible work. For someone as well-known as he is in the liberty world, parsing one from the other is especially important.

Stefan Molyneux has brilliant ideas on markets, minimum wage, and anarchy. I respect his views on bitcoin and atheism tremendously. His articulation of peaceful parenting is lovely. His concept of Universally Preferable Behavior is a thoughtful tool to build upon, though it is not a complete philosophy. He’s very eloquent as a vegetarian about his preference not to aggress upon animals.

Many of his ideas, however, are terrible. His videos are often filled with baseless assumptions about other people’s motivations. His commentary on women, gender relations, medical psychiatry, and removing yourself from your Family of Origin are somewhat disturbing, and many of his arguments don’t seem to be based in sourced fact.

I’ve tried to willfully ignore many of his writings or videos on male-female dynamics or counseling people on de-FOOing.  I’ve read terrible accounts about the experiences people have had with his “cult of personality.” However great peaceful parenting might be, I don’t think it alone can “rid the world of evil.” His commentary on things like Robin Williams’ death make me sad that he calls himself a philosopher, since so much of what he says is unsubstantiated speculation presented as fact to serve his own agenda.

The worst part about him and many other “philosophers,” particularly in liberty spaces, is when they claim some absolute knowledge of objective truth. They do this often while not acknowledging their own emotional and intellectual biases that grow from limited experiences or confirmation bias, not necessarily applicable to others. Molyneux often doesn’t deal in complete, verifiable facts and passes his opinions off as if they are, then counsels other people with them.

His attempts to convince everyone that they’re a victim and only his ideas can lead them to empowerment is pretty much exactly what he accuses feminism of doing. His self importance and the level to which his followers often unquestioningly adopt his ideas and concepts make me worry, as cult leaders are not something we need in liberty.

Despite all this, I have compassion. By his own account, he was abused by his emotionally unbalanced mother, which explains some of his over-emotional assumptions about parent-child relationships and single mothers. It doesn’t justify his opinions, particularly as he attempts to assign them to other people’s lives, but I have some empathy for the inner turmoil that is caused when your parents are cruel and abusive.

Ultimately, I see a suffering human being with emotional problems who seeks “logical” solutions to some of his issues. He then gets caught up in self-affirming fallacious logic to justify his own emotional reactions and biases. What he really should be doing is challenging those biases.

I have tremendous sympathy for him, but then I see how he uses his prejudices to make himself money, destroy other people’s relationships and lives, and lead them to conclusions which are not based in critical thought. My sympathy wanes.

The piece linked to at the beginning of this article is a hit piece, and I wish that wasn’t necessary. People are flawed and often compensate for their weaknesses, so I find it important to shine light on them entirely instead.

Sympathy does not render someone immune to having light shed on their faults. Stefan Molyneux is not a great philosopher king: he rejects his own conclusions when it serves him. He is not the savior of the worldHe cannot solve all your problems. Some of my biggest criticisms of Molyneux involve his attachment to false premises, his speculations passed off as “fact”, and his presumptions that he knows the truth of people’s motivations. I’d rather avoid engaging in those tactics while criticizing him.

Be a critical thinker. Take your Molyneux with a giant block of salt, and figure out your own damn truth.

Follow up article: Stefan Molyneux & the Gun in the Room

Post publication edit: This article originally incorrectly stated that Molyneux is vegan, he is in fact vegetarian.
  • Michael Jon Barker

    Great piece Avens.

  • DonnaO

    You have articulated exactly my thoughts and feelings about Stefan Molyneux. Thank you so much.

  • me

    Avens – You totally lost all credibility with this article when you sourced the whack jobs at fdrliberated and molyneuxrevealed.

    • Avens O’Brien

      If that’s what your issue is, it sounds like I lost all credibility with any criticism whatsoever.

      • me

        I don’t understand what your comment meant Avens, but since you brought up the “defoo” issue in your article as one of your reasons to not like what Stefan is saying…

        If you have exhausted all avenues in trying to deal with toxic people in your life, how should you deal with them? Should you continue allowing them to drag you down or should you “defoo” or disconnect from them?

        For example: I had a very close friend years ago that morphed into a raging alcoholic in his early twenties. It was painful to watch him go down the tubes. I tried to help him repeatedly but he wasn’t open and receptive so my only healthy choice was to finally disconnect from him.

        Another example: I have a brother that has been abusive towards me for most of my life (and others too). I have tried and tried for years to help him understand that he is hurting a lot of people by the things he does and says, and this is what he says if you bring it up, and I’m quoting here: “Hey, this is the way I am and I’m not going to change so deal with it.” I finally came to the conclusion a couple years ago after much study that my brother is a narcissist and the only “cure” for narcissism is to get as far away from them as possible and warn everyone else. But this guy is my brother and part of a very large family that I love. So what healthy choice did I have but to defoo him and how do I do that without defooing from my entire family? Well I did defoo him in a sense because I no longer call or email him and my life is so much better for having done that. Sure, things get a little weird at family functions but I just stay away from him and we are fine.

        Please understand they my decision to “defoo” or disconnect from those two people didn’t happen suddenly. I did that after months and months of painful deliberation. In hindsight, I don’t regret in the slightest my decision to disconnect from them.

        My point is that disconnecting from toxic people in your life is something I (or Stefan) recommend as a last resort, and isn’t that just basic common sense? So all this talk about Stefan starting a cult that focuses on defooing is ridiculous and I suspect is being said by people who, like my brother, are themselves abusive and refuse to take responsibility for their behavior.

        • QuestEon

          I’m very sorry that you have had a difficult family and am in no position to judge whether you’ve made the right decisions. I wish you peace.

          I completely agree with your idea of when and why someone should separate from toxic family members. It is very consistent with the ideas of John Bradshaw, who popularized the belief. (In fact, I believe those ideas are actually the basis of Molyneux’s “defooing” practice.)

          However, as both Molyneux and I have demonstrated ad nauseam, he believes nearly every parent should be defooed. He has clearly stated that belief. He has never retracted it.

        • Avens O’Brien

          “If you have exhausted all avenues in trying to deal with toxic people in your life, how should you deal with them?”

          You seem to presume I don’t have experience in this matter. I have dealt with toxic people, I have removed them from my life. I generally simply reduce people from various levels of contact. So, if I find someone to be negative/toxic, I simply remove them from positions of influence in my life and spend much less time with them. Sometimes this is difficult if they have mutual friends or are related to me and we have family gatherings to mutually attend. I maintain my separation and boundaries, and I check in every year or so to see how things are going. People do change. I have seen massive change in people in my life, and one of the most important people in my life is someone I almost shut out of it completely.

          I am really sorry you’ve gone through a lot of hurt and abuse. I not only sympathize but I have some understanding (I have not been physically abused ever, but emotionally/verbally).

          Separating yourself from toxic people is both your right and likely in your best interest. The fact that it was a long and hard decision makes it more evident it was done for the right reasons and after other options had been exhausted. It indicates you hoped for change, for example, and gave chances. When someone still fails you then, it is absolutely appropriate to disengage.

          I listened to an awful lot of Molyneux’s podcasts and videos and I didn’t hear de-FOOing as a last resort, I heard it as a great option. Often. His videos and words clearly indicate he thinks parents are inherently abusive (except him) and that any hint of dissatisfaction or feelings of obligation towards family are an indication of deep-seated problems between the people, and likely abuse.

          I find this to be a problematic viewpoint which removes people from relationships which *may* have real tension, and instead of fixing them or addressing them, running away from them.

        • Skeptic at Heart

          When any parent who doesn’t parent exactly like Stef says to parent is considered an abuser, then yes, deFOOing ends up being overkill, IMO. Someone in FDR called me a future child abuser on several occasions because I’m not 100% atheist or 100% anarchist and I’m against raising children into ANY beliefs other than critical thinking and not judging others for their beliefs but only for their actions if their actions are harmful to others. Which is exactly the opposite of what FDR teaches people. FDR teaches people to deFOO anyone who isn’t an anarchist using the “against me” argument, by saying a statist is going to use “the gun in the room” against you and thus you should be afraid of statists. They also teach members that statists are basically evil, immoral people for supporting the coercion of the state. Teaching members to fear and hate outsiders is very culty.

          FDR defenders can’t keep saying they only recommend deFOOing for abusers on the one hand and then having entire threads about how you should end relationships with all statists and theists on the other hand. Either own up on the cultiness of the FDR group or stop making “against me” arguments on your forum and delete all podcasts encouraging people to end relationships with statists using the “against me” argument. Ending relationships with anyone who doesn’t agree with your beliefs and calling them all evil or toxic is only doing yourself a disservice by closing your mind to new information and perspectives. Isolating members from nonbelievers is extremely culty because it pulls members in even further. Entire podcasts on FDR are dedicated to convincing people who think their parents aren’t that bad that, indeed, ALL parents are bad.

          • MaineShark

            Statism is inherently evil. But there are degrees of evil.

            Stealing a candy bar and setting off a nuclear weapon in a city are both evil acts; I hope no one would say that they are interchangeable.

            I can say that Statism (and, therefore, Statists) are evil, without saying that each and every Statist is so evil that even interacting with them is unacceptable, as Molyneux seems to do.

    • Kooks can be found everywhere but I do know a few good people that are on FDR Liberated though I deleted my own account months ago. It’s really not fair to stereotype them.

      • me

        Oh c’mon, fdrliberated is comprised of humans who spend their spare time obsessing over and nitpicking every little detail of what Stefan says. I joined that forum a couple years ago so I could try to understand where they were coming from and never did get a rational reason out of them. I suspect their are more sinister motives at play there with some of the “leaders” because none of their “reasons” would make sense to rational thinking humans.

        • Well yeah there were a lot who were just too wrapped up in their Moly hate, thus why I deleted my account. This latest attack against people just expressing themselves though struck a nerve so I’m on a minicrusade myself to make sure people are warned about his disgusting cult.

          • QuestEon

            I’m sorry about that. I didn’t notice you had deleted your account. If I’m a libertarian who practices what he preaches then any forum I create has to be founded on free speech, even when I find it disagreeable. Quite often, some members of a forum like mine are going through a process–they once believed deeply in FDR, found it lacking, and now feel deceived.

            I don’t believe they were, because my perception is that Molyneux is earnestly trying to be a force for good in the world. But what I think isn’t the point. In time, most of them work through that and they may stay around the forum for awhile or leave, putting the whole episode behind them. If I’ve helped them, I’m glad.

          • I never had any emotional investment in FDR to begin with so it wasn’t really anything I needed to get over, but I have met others online that have been hurt and I don’t like seeing narcissistic phonies like Moly prosper, especially given the latest act of hypocrisy by his right-hand man MMD in using state aggression to enforce nonproperty “rights” to stop the free speech of their critics.

            Nothing against FDR Liberated. I think it does suit a useful purpose for some people. It just wasn’t my scene. We still have our chat room (though the link has changed since you first posted it), and I still participate there regularly. And after checking my web logs, it looks like someone posted a link to my article. That’s my primary soapbox.

          • QuestEon

            I’ll fix that link! I just have to get into the .php to do it and I’m lazy (and not good with code).

            Hey, just FYI. If you (and Avens for that matter) ever want to create an account on the forum solely to announce/link to new blog posts on your sites, you’re more than welcome to. There is always interest in any freedom/libertarian topics on the forum.

            I try to dissuade spammers, but legit authors are cheerfully welcomed!

            I plan to do a post about the excellent article here and the one on your site as well–as soon as the Tru Shibes/Joe Rogan blow ups subside.

          • Thanks, but I seldom blog, and this one was mostly because of my outrage over the Tru Shibes incident, which I’m glad to see blowing up in Moly’s face now, especially with Philosophy Lines getting an acknowledgement from Joe Rogan on Twitter about Moly blatently lying to him.

  • Bravo Avens. I haven’t been part of Molyneux’s cult as some people call it, but generally I had thought a great deal about many of the issues he has presented until I say his eulogy to Robin Williams. After I’d seen that I was left with the impression that he was attempting to project some of his own issues into Williams’ life as an explanation of his death. I say I had the impression because I don’t have the complete facts at hand to dispute all the points he raised … the impression was formed simply from the information provided by Molyneux himself in his video.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion “figure out your own damn truth.” It’s too bad so few people aren’t willing to make that effort.

    • That’s the standard modus operandi for Holy Moly. He is a narcissist and everything he says and does is about him, including projecting his perceived childhood trauma, hatred of his mother and its resulting misogynistic attitude onto others as if they all came from the same mold as him. He used to speak a lot about self-knowledge but it appears he really has very little or he would realize his projections.

  • It was very well done. I disagree with you about a few of the specific topics Stefan covers well/poorly (although even on some where he generally does well, his phrasing can be a wee bit over the top), but in broad strokes this was an important opinion piece.

    • Avens O’Brien

      I appreciate it. I know we disagree on certain issues, but I’m more about his approach than anything else – and it’s important to take a critical glance at things. It’s encouraging to see others do so.

  • Good article, just linked your article from my own, which isn’t so kind, that I wrote yesterday after FDR’s media massacre of using IP (something Moly alleges to be opposed to) to take down opponents on YouTube and Fakebook. The actual bogus complaints were filed by MMD so not sure how much knowledge Holy Moly himself has of the events. In any case the I’ve now lost the last miniscule bit of respect I may have once had for Molyneux.

    Sorry To Interrupt Your Cult Of Hypocrisy
    The Untruth About Freedomain Radio


  • Nicholas Miles

    This post is a far better, more rational critique of Molyneux than most of the texts and places it links to. For instance, many of the linked works criticise Molyneux for making basic assumptions about other people’s motivations, only to then psychologise Molyneux in exactly the manner he is being criticised for using. This piece, by contrast, goes out of its way to avoid idle speculation.

    As a sidenote, most of the stories (both linked here and that I’ve seen elsewhere) which criticise deFOOing are told from the perspective of the deFOOd familiy. I honestly cannot see how their perspective is of any great interest, since they’re the ones who implicitly stand accused of abusing their own children (“Next week: What abusive partners think of divorce!”). If you were a good parent, I find it hard to believe your children would stop talking to you because they read a book and called in to a radioshow for a few hours, especially when the host almost always advises people to seek counselling from professional therapists (speaking of which, does that sound like a cult leader to you?).

    Judging by the hysterical tone most of the sources in this blog post had, the libertarian movement could use more analyses of Molynuex’s work that are as sober and level-headed as this one.

    • Skeptic at Heart

      See my reply above firstly. The definition of abuse by Molyneaux seems to be “everyone who isn’t parenting exactly like I say so”. He uses the topic of spanking to get listeners to bring themselves back into a vulnerable, terrified state, which allows him to then bypass their normal critical thinking capacity. Also, all the discussion of childhood is very negative and this serves to slowly make members view their childhoods more negatively than before FDR. You can read about these methods of thought reform in the book “Cults in Our Midst”.

      I’m against spanking and I always was; even when I was spanked as a kid I found it immoral. However, I realize my parents are humans and they make mistakes, though they had good intentions most of the time. Using the topic of spanking to initiate thought reform and thus take away the freedom of FDR members’ minds is also immoral. I don’t understand how FDR can spend so much effort worrying about theft of natural resources that are external to the self and not be bothered by co opting the thoughts of their members that take place in their own brains. If you doubt me, read that book. Seriously, it’s very scary to see someone’s mind be taken over.

      • One really has to spend some time listening to a series of his live shows and maybe join his forum to see that the presentation he gives the larger media outlets is far different from the reality within his own tightly-controllled community. His portrayal of deFOO sounds fine when he talks openly to critics, but in practice, he breaks down callers by manipulating the conversations to dig for anything reason he can find as an excuse to deFOO.

        Hearing these conversations and his manipulations were always a point of concern when I was following his show, and expressing those reservations was what eventually got me banned from their site. The supposed philosphical “discussion” of FDR is really just Molyneux doing a monologue into an echo chamber.

    • Xheight

      So Nicholas, if a woman made an acusation of rape against you, your perspective should be of no great interest to anyone as you are the one accused.

      You finding it hard to believe does not invalidate their claims. As Skeptic at heart has said, a progressive process of indoctrination happens. If a person contemplating defooing as a result of Molyneux were to go to a therapist, they would go with an altered mindset. They would tell the therapist how abusive their families were and how negatively they feel about them, where they didn’t feel that way before and would not have said this. If they were to say to the therapist “I’ve been listening to hundreds of podcasts by this guy and now I think I was abused”, the therapist would view the whole situation quite differently.

  • anarchtheist

    Bravo, I feel like you transcribed this piece directly from my thoughts.

  • CT Jaynes

    Your feelings are stupid… Quit posting them under the guise of being an article…

    • bdrew

      wow, mature

  • Youonlyliveonce

    I am in agreement with moleneux on about 90% things politically. But when he tries to psychoanalyze everything it’s gets a little ridiculous

  • Ignotum P Ignotious

    thankyou for echoing my own feelings almost exactly. beautifully and compassionately written. i would love to see you, Avens, write this as a letter to hm personally and see how you would change it. how can we approach the beast in a successful man and give him room for growth and transformation without abandoning him midstream, when his painful mom issues are the root cause — abandonment. as female supporters of Stefan’s good works and good intentions, i hope there is some way he can be reached and helped to heal these fundamental flaws in his thinking through the healing of his broken heart.

  • bdrew

    100% agreed! He passes off his “The Truth About …” videos as facts so people can “make up their own minds”. His condescending tone and blatant disregard and omission of some of the most important facts is offensive, manipulative and outright shady (but hey, it’s YT so that should have been my first red flag). So many of his followers are deceived by his “powerpoint’ bullet point presentation style that they just assume he is presenting the whole story when all it takes is a two second google search to reveal those videos are antithetical to objectivity. I

    I also find some of his presentations informative, but once I realized I was being played, it was a super fast unsubscribe for this girl! I was almost immediately put off by the inflections in his tone, little noises after reading some of his points, and obvious “yeah right” bias revealing facial expressions. Not the mention, the “Hmm” or “Hmm?” he let slip every other point he made especially about topics you know he doesn’t agree with just by reading the channel description.

    I subscribed based on the first video I saw because it happened to be one I found helpful and informative. I let my bias cloud my judgement. Unfortunately, I broke my own rule of verifying the facts separately, and getting to know more about my source through a third party or two before regurgitating whatever it is they are selling. I ended up passing on something he had provided that turned out to be completely false, and learned my lesson by looking like a moron. Fortunately, before I realized I had done this, I watched a couple more of his videos, and it quickly became apparent that he was not at all objective nor providing all of the facts so I could “make up my own mind”. I was able to apologize for my misinformation, but you can’t unsay or erase things these days. The net is like a sharpie!

    I subscribed precisely because I thought I had stumbled on a reliable and objective channel. The irony of my mistake was not lost on me as I quickly hit the unsubscribe once I realized my error. I don’t only subscribe to channels or listen to people who only present objective information and/or straight news, etc., but I don’t like being lied to or made a fool. That earns you a middle finger from me, and maybe a comment like this on an article that is pointing out why he deserves that middle finger. Occasionally, I revisit the channel to see what other nonsense he is tricking people into believing with his fake value proposition of “I’m only here to give you the facts and let you decide for yourself.”, but mostly because I find the comments to be entertaining and good research respectively. I guess that is what we all do though.

    Makes me feel better to know I am not the only one that thinks he is trying to playing on people’s emotions and shared histories to make a buck. Hypocrite seems to be a word I find use for very often these days. Why does one’s history of abuse give them the right to abuse others? Inquiring minds want to know! Hey, I am perfect either, and I know I am a hypocrite at times too, but I would never use my personal suffering to feed on the suffering of others to make money in such a dishonest, albeit transparent to those who are paying attention, way. Good article!

  • Union Lacktivist

    Well written. This guy bothers me. I think some of his mother’s narcissism may have rubbed off on him.

  • bsroon

    Well, i don’t get the “only way to think” thing as other than implied. Sometimes when you listed to the talks there really is little room for maneuvering against what he says, what you see, and the conclusions you can honestly reach.

    Is he as perfect as you imply he thinks he is? No – you simply proved that like you and i – he is a (damn) human being. With flaws. Hidden aspects – hidden from self and others.

    You claim that he is doing everything to serve his purpose. Didn’t you JUST DO THE EXACT SAME THING here? You have SOME reward for writing this article – whether it is acknowledgement as below – and since i don’t know you – perhaps an income as well???

    Very few people do things that are NOT for their benefit. Hindu thought – very precise thinking structure – reveals 6 attributes of the Divine and these same 6 attributes are what people always strive for and respect. Strength/power, intelligence, beauty, wealth, renunciation (the ability to be beyond during duress, etc) and there is one i frankly seem locked on forgetting, dammut. Fame?

    Regardless – when people decide to give up material wealth it is always because they perceive a benefit which they weigh as more beneficial to them. Become an ascetic and wear a hair shirt. Life is less comfortable and easy as you sit on your pole for long times – but your perceived mental/spiritual enrichment is perceived by yourself as a winning trade.

    So essentially, you just made an article which was fairly balanced except that you just made the whole article as part of YOUR BENEFIT, lol.

    Damb humans – don’t we suck???? lol.

  • Cawrl

    Congratulations on such a concise piece that manages to communicate the complicated mix of healthy/unhealthy stuff going on there.

    It is hard to state things as nuanced as they are.

  • Molyneaux seems like a real screw up, and quite twisted, but at least he’s right about fembots, and the scum now invading Europe, and the traitors who bring in the scum (though he doesn’t Name The K.)

  • Brandon

    I know how to identify a cultish leader type person when i see them talk. There is a huge amount of these people now and I hate it to no end that logic and reason has fallen so far out of mainstream. But as i write this the author i’m commenting on is one of those types of people as well. Everyone has a bias and surely one day logic and reason has to prevail. There is a natural justice and order in the world and one day i hope it is served and peoples eyes open up to the fact that what they have been squabbling about while normal rational people carry on with the higher priorities in life was nothing but a bunch of BULLSHIT.

  • Steph

    Please don’t just say that “many of his arguments don’t seem [sic] to be based in sourced fact”; that’s terribly weak. Base your own case in sourced facts -and cite them, as Molyneux does in his reference sections.

    • Sean Ryan

      Yes, this is an incredibly weak critique.

      The “cultist” label gets pretty boring too…it can be applied to any group that rallies around a leader.

      Sanders, Clinton, Trump, Avens O’Brien, etc…I can call them and their followers “cultists” too.

      Stefan isn’t perfect, yeah, but his critiques of the state and points about universal application of moral principles are spot-on…I have yet to hear anyone disprove them.

      I fail to see why cutting toxic people out of your life (“de-fooing”) is so controversial. I don’t think this is an effective strategy for advancing a stateless society (it’ll just lead to you being alienated from friends/family since almost NO ONE will ever agree) but it isn’t even debatable that people who support statism are indirectly supporting/enabling coercion/violence against others.

      This nonsense about focusing in on someone’s flaws/mistakes and then extrapolating that into “this discredits everything he/she says” is idiotic.